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The Kew Gardens (Leases) Bill 2016-17 has its Commons report stage and third reading on Friday 24 March 2017.
It is a Private Member’s Bill, introduced to Parliament by Ian Liddell-Grainger MP on 29 June 2016 [Bill 22], through the ballot procedure. It is a short Bill, comprising two clauses.
What does the Bill aim to do?
The Explanatory Notes for the Bill (Bill 22 EN, 56/2, prepared by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) with Ian Liddell-Grainger’s consent) set out its purpose:
This Bill confirms the Secretary of State’s powers in relation to the management of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Kew) and raises the restriction on leasing land at Kew from a period of up to 31 years to a period of up to 150 years. [paragraph 1]
The Explanatory Notes go on to explain that the Bill is intended as a modernising measure, as it would enable Kew Gardens to generate more income by offering longer leases:
2. The Bill would remove unnecessary restrictions on leases on the Kew Gardens estate. Currently the 1702 Crown Land Act limits leases at Kew Gardens to 31 years. This Bill modernises these provisions – allowing leases up to 150 years.
3. The change would free up Kew to generate revenue to improve the quality of its estate and support its world‐class science in line with its plans. Income generation will help enable Kew to achieve its core objectives and retention of UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
4. The aim is to help Kew in its ambition to further increase its self‐generated income. Income would be generated by granting long leases to third parties for use of non‐core elements of the Kew Gardens estate. In addition by transferring property to third parties Kew would transfer the liability and cost of maintaining those non‐core assets. [paragraphs 2 – 4]
The current limit on leases to 31 years dates from 1702, as the Explanatory Notes go on to explain:
5. Section 5 of the Crown Land Act 1702 prevents the sale of Crown land and limits the length of leases over Crown land to a term of 31 years. Kew is Crown land. It is managed by the Secretary of State and, where directed to do so, Kewʹs Board of Trustees. This Bill confirms the Secretary of Stateʹs powers of management include the power to grant leases at Kew. It also raises the restriction on the length of leases over land at Kew from a maximum term of 31 years to a maximum term of 150 years. [paragraph 5]
Parliament’s consideration of the Bill
In the Public Bill Committee, Ian Liddell-Grainger set out what the Bill was intended to achieve:
That change [to the length of leases] would allow Kew to generate revenue to improve the quality of the estate and support its world-class science. Income generation would help Kew achieve its core objectives and retain its UNESCO world heritage site status. The change would also enable the release of value from non-core land and property at Kew. Long leases would help Kew develop what it does and what it wants to do in future. Anybody who saw David Attenborough in the wonderful series at Kew will not disagree that it is a remarkable place. The aim is to help Kew in its ambition to increase its self-generated income and become more financially viable.Kew’s historic estate requires conservation and improvement. The Bill will enable income generation from the land at Kew that can be reinvested in the maintenance and development of the site. That will allow Kew’s infrastructure to be brought up to a standard that fully supports Kew’s ambitions and, more importantly, its mission. Basically, that has to happen because it is a UNESCO world heritage site. The financial benefits mean that it will have a time and place to raise the money it requires for the long-term commitment that it has shown in the past 150 years since it was set up. [PBC on Kew Gardens (Leases) Bill, 22 February 2017, cc3-4]
He also set out what the Bill would not do:
The change does not allow the sale of the freehold land. The Government cannot sell the land because it remains with the Crown. Primary legislation would be needed if we wanted to do anything else to the land. Any proposals for new build or changes to buildings or their use, including the wider estate, will continue to be subject to rigorous review. There are tight restrictions on planning anyway, because Kew is a UNESCO world heritage site. We also know how rigorous planning is in that part of London. [PBC on Kew Gardens (Leases) Bill, 22 February 2017, c4]
He explained, too, that 150 years had been adopted as the maximum length of any lease because the Crown works on 150 year leases. [PBC on Kew Gardens (Leases) Bill, 22 February 2017, c4]
Shadow DEFRA minister, Mary Glindon said that the Opposition supported the Bill:
We support this little Bill, because it would modernise those restraints and instead allow leases of up to 150 years. We believe that would make properties on the Kew Gardens estate more commercially attractive, generating income that can help support its world-class scientific research and help maintain its historic buildings. My researcher gave me an estimate that in the first 10 years of the new arrangements Kew could bring in £40 million in capital receipts. [PBC on Kew Gardens (Leases) Bill, 22 February 2017, c5]
DEFRA minister George Eustice confirmed that the Government also welcomed the Bill and supported Kew in its aims:
A large proportion of Kew’s estate is historic in nature and requires careful management. To create world-class infrastructure, Kew would like to be able to enhance its estate. It would like to get additional investment into its infrastructure through leveraging Government investment to achieve philanthropic and private commercial investment. The Government fully support Kew in that aim, as part of its ambitions to further increase its self-generated income and become more financially self-sufficient.
Examples of situations in which long leases might be granted include for the replacement of outdated catering and visitor facilities within the gardens and the renovation of properties just outside the gardens for residential use. All proposals for granting long leases will be in line with Kew’s world heritage site management plan. Proposals will be subject to scrutiny by Kew trustees and DEFRA, as well as through the planning process with local residents and businesses. [PBC on Kew Gardens (Leases) Bill, 22 February 2017, c5]
Other documents relating to the Bill are on the Bill page.
Kew Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO world heritage site. Its annual report and accounts for the year ending 31 March 2016 [HC 233] records its five strategic objectives:
RBG Kew’s mission is to be the global resource for plant and fungal knowledge, building an understanding of the world’s plants and fungi upon which all our lives depend. We have five strategic objectives:
- Our collections are curated to excellent standards and are widely used for the benefit of humankind;
- Our science makes a demonstrable contribution to solving the critical challenges facing humanity today;
- We are the world’s leading botanic gardens where our large and diverse audiences develop their understanding of why plants and fungi matter;
- We are valued as the pre-eminent provider of public education on plant and fungal science, conservation and horticulture; and
- We are a sustainable and dynamic organisation, making positive global impacts in partnership with others.